For centuries they have expected him. Many generations have spoken of this mystery man who is supposed to become their king. So much so that they have allowed their hope to cloud their common sense. The news about this man has quickly spread and we hear the word “messiah” once again. Nobody can even pin down where this man is from or who he really is. Yet they are so desperate they grasp at anything that offers them the slightest bit of hope. In fact, the man who started this story, “The Baptist” they call him, has since been imprisoned and proven to be insane. These people deserve to be under our control. In fact, they have to be. They are dumb sheep, following whatever moves. That can be dangerous to our empire. They don’t think. They believe this man despite his lack of training. His so-called miracles have yet to be proven. We Romans are smarter than that. I am smarter than that.
What would possess a man to throw away a promising career and a life of luxury and security? I have mixed thoughts running through my head right now. You see, the man directly over me, a centurion, is in danger of losing rank. His servant, who is like a son to him, fell gravely ill. Desperation clouded his reason and he decided to seek out this man Jesus for a miracle cure. By some strange coincidence, when he was gone, his servant recovered. It is plain for me to see that it was just luck, but my centurion is convinced it was Jesus. My comrades and I have all been pleading with him to keep his mouth shut. His servant is well. He has a career that many long for and dream of. If he keeps quiet, he can have the best of both worlds. So why are my thoughts mixed? On the one hand, I hate to see a man of his caliber throw away everything for which he has labored. On the other hand, I would love to see it. I am in line to take his position. I have worked hard and deserve to be there. I could soon be on top of the world. Much higher wages. Opportunities to impress Pilate. Honor, respect, a certain amount of fame. How could life be better? As for me, well, I would never give it up. Never. It is not worth the sacrifice.
Jerusalem has been restless this week. This man Jesus made his grand entrance and the throngs are following. On top of that, the Jews will soon be celebrating their Passover feast. I need to keep an eye on things and prove that I deserve my promotion to centurion. Unrest could quickly turn to an uprising. It has been reported among my soldiers that even many of his own people want Jesus dead. If he were legitimate, the religious leaders would support him. There would be no controversy or division. If things don’t settle down on their own, we will have to make an example of this man.
Where do I begin? I thought I was doing my job. I thought I was doing the right thing. One of Jesus’ own betrayed Him and the religious leaders unanimously wanted Him crucified. That would make anyone think Jesus was a fraud. I did. I watched as two of my soldiers whipped this Man and I sneered and scoffed. Good riddance to Him. He deserves it. How dare He say or do anything that threatens our control. A trail of blood was left as He was led away to be crucified. Normally I would have those under me pound the spikes, but my hate toward Him drove me to participate. I showed the soldiers how I wanted it done and loved every moment of it. One of the other criminals challenged Him to save Himself. Nothing. I figured at that moment all those who once believed in Him would realize their mistakes and leave, but many still lingered. The weather started turning worse. Never before have I seen it like that. The people needed to leave. Jesus’ mother was at the foot of the cross and I approached her. Normally we kept our distance from those hung up on display. They were all worth less than dung, and more often than not the criminals would try to spit on us or relieve themselves on us. We got the last laugh by breaking their legs and watching them expire. This time, for some reason, I approached. As I reached out to touch the shoulder of Jesus’ mother and get her up, something hit the back of my hand. I looked up at Jesus and realized it was a tear. Several more tears fell as I looked into His eyes and He looked at me. I expected to see a look of hate, anger, and terror like we always see. None of that was present. Just a look of kindness, sadness, and…and…love. I looked back at my hand as if to recreate this again and make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I looked at my knuckles, swollen from the blows I had inflicted on Him. Of all people who He should be angry with, He should certainly be angry toward me. I looked up at Him again and saw something I never expected. It was slight because He was so weak, but I know I saw it. It was a smile. It was as if He knew what I was thinking. He sensed my remorse for the things I had done to Him, and He forgave me. He lifted His head toward the sky, spoke something, and died. The earth quaked. Jesus’ brother grabbed hold of their mother and everyone scattered. I dropped to my knees and clung to the cross. Somehow I knew I’d be okay there. The quake ended. I struggled to rise because my knees were weak and trembling. I didn’t care if my soldiers heard me – I had to proclaim it, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” All my soldiers agreed.
Yesterday I heard something from two soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ grave. They said someone in glimmering white had appeared and rolled the cover stone away. It has to be true. They could face a penalty of death if they are found to have fallen asleep at their post. Nobody would risk that if it had not really happened. In addition, the high priests offered them enough money to retire several times over if they only changed their story. Several others soldiers accepted the bribe. These did not. They saw Him walk out of the tomb. Though my mind cannot fully understand it, my heart knows it is true. It was not those who followed Jesus who were blind and deceived, it was me. Now I see. Now I believe. Now I have hope. Now I am alive!
He is Risen!!!
Written by MarK E. Donnelly, author of ‘Rude Awakening: What If Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong?’